Warlords Battlecry III Q&A
Infinite Interactive founder Steve Fawkner and Enlight executive producer Parrish Rogers discuss the next game in the real-time strategy series.
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Australian developer Strategic Studies Group has created challenging strategy games for years, including the fantasy-themed Warlords series--games that let you conquer a colorful fantasy world with an army of fantastical monsters. The developer surprised everyone in 2000 by bringing the traditionally turn-based Warlords games into real time. Warlords Battlecry was a real-time strategy game that let you gather resources, build a base of operations, amass an army, and trounce your opponents before they could do the same to you, but since it was a Warlords game, it also let you create a hero unit who would gain power with each battle--and you could even carry this unit over between games. The developer subsequently released a solid sequel, then later split into two groups--SSG continues to make wargames, while the new studio, Infinite Interactive, has focused mainly on fantasy-themed games, like the recently released Warlords IV.
Warlords Battlecry III will attempt to improve on everything in the previous games and will also attempt to add new features, like a new magic spell system and new playable factions. The new studio has teamed up with publisher Enlight Software to bring this new game to market. We caught up with Infinite Interactive founder and lead designer Steve Fawkner and Enlight executive producer Parrish Rogers for more information.
GameSpot: Thanks to both of you for taking the time for this interview. Could you give us a brief overview of what Warlords Battlecry III is about? Will the new game attempt to evolve the series, or are there plans for revolutionary features that will fundamentally change the game?
Steve Fawkner: Warlords Battlecry III is a mixture of evolutionary and revolutionary features. We are attempting to extend the game in almost every respect without losing the flavor that made it so popular amongst both RPG and strategy gamers. To that end, the game contains more of everything--more spells, more races, more heroes, more terrain. We have also taken the opportunity to completely revamp some areas of the game, such as the hero and magic systems. Our new hero system is fundamentally different than the old one. For instance, one simple change, allowing heroes to level up during play [rather than waiting until the end of a match], has altered the game significantly for the better!
Parrish Rogers: The guys at Infinite Interactive have looked at the features of the Battlecry series that have placed it among the great RTS games and have expanded, refined, and tuned these features to develop Warlords Battlecry III. This next installment will give those familiar with the series something new and exciting while still maintaining the flavor of the original games. It has been a real joy for us at Enlight to be part of this evolution in the series and watch it mature into what we think will be the best Battlecry experience yet!
GS: Could you give us an overview of the game's new playable races and their abilities? How are they being balanced to fit in with the races from the previous games? What new additions and modifications are being made to the existing races to keep them fresh and to keep them competitive with their new rivals?
SF: We have added three entirely new races, as well as splitting the old human side into two different races: knights and empire. Each of these five new races has its own unique style of play. The knights and empire have much more flavor than their predecessor. Playing the knights is all about creating new "orders of knighthood," while the empire has some unique abilities that allow its units to instantly hire mercenaries.
The three new races are the ssrathi (a race of snake- and lizardlike creatures), the swarm (insects and scorpion-men, led by the lord of famine), and the plaguelords (a group of twisted and misshapen monstrosities created by the lord of plague).
We haven't neglected the previous 12 races either. They will each receive at least one new creature with a special ability.
GS: We've heard that heroes will be enhanced in the new game with new abilities and professions--for instance, it seems that elements of Warlords IV's hero magic system might be carried over. Give us an overview of the new professions and the new hero abilities.
SF: Actually, we have a totally new hero system, nothing like the one in Warlords IV. Because you can have many heroes in Warlords IV, we needed to make the system simpler. The new Battlecry III system feels much more like an action RPG, like Diablo.
As I previously mentioned, now all heroes can level up within a battle. This means that we've had to change the way the skill systems and magic systems work so that they are not so overwhelming. That's not to say that we've simplified the system itself--we've just simplified the interface for leveling up. If anything, the new system has even more scope for creating unique characters.
For the purposes of consistency, we still have all the old races and professions from Battlecry II, but now they work a little differently. We have also added eight new professions, such as the snakepriest, the sage, and lichelord.
The Last Hope of a Kingdom Under Siege
GS: We understand that heroes will once again remain persistent throughout single-player campaigns and skirmishes, as well as in multiplayer games. How is the persistent-hero system being rebalanced or enhanced for the new game? Are there specific features that the fans have requested for the way their heroes behave in battle or how they evolve when carried over from battle to battle?
SF: The main focus has been for us to provide the following features. First, to have heroes start out a bit tougher than they did in Battlecry II. Second, to allow heroes to get more levels beyond 50. And third, to stop heroes ramping up in power so quickly that they are godlike at level 20.
The new hero system does exactly that. Heroes will gain more levels, but each level will have a much smaller increment in power.
GS: It also seems that, as mentioned, the new game will use some elements of Warlords IV's major/minor skill system for heroes--that is, letting heroes specialize in a major skill (like combat or certain schools of magic) and a minor skill, which helps determine their profession. How is this system being implemented in Battlecry III? Could you give us some details on the new schools of magic? Are there other enhancements and additions being made to the magic system?
SF: The new Battlecry system provides heroes with more than just two skills, but much like Warlords IV, when a hero gains a level, he can choose one skill to improve by one point (he can also choose one of his abilities--strength, dexterity, intelligence, or charisma--to improve by one point). Some skills are available initially, while others are available only at higher levels. Players can either choose to specialize in one or two skills, or they can spread their advancement over multiple skills.
Now magic is just another skill! So you might choose to increase your hero's morale by one point or your hero's necromantic magic skill by one point.
There are three new schools of magic--poison, divination, and arcane--and each represents a new and interesting way to defeat certain enemies!
GS: Give us an overview of the single-player campaign. Can we expect to see the Etheria storyline from Warlords IV continue? How is it being created and balanced for the great variety of different heroes and races that players can play?
SF: In some ways, the events of Battlecry III are a direct result of the story in Warlords IV. After Aravein, the dark elven sorceress, almost broke the veil between Etheria and the daemon realm, something new has found its way through. Etheria is already cursed with the Four Horsemen: Death, War, Famine, and Plague. This new creature is simply known as the Fifth Horseman, and everybody wants him gone!
Because we want to allow players to freely choose their race and class of hero, having a common foe like this really lends itself well to a game with lots of variety.
GS: And, of course, we'd also like to hear about plans for multiplayer play, especially since the Battlecry series has a contingent of devoted multiplayer fans. What features have the fans requested most often for multiplayer, and how is the team implementing them?
SF: Multiplayer play has always been a huge focus for Battlecry--it's one of the best ways to play the game. We are completely rewriting the network layer of our code in order to speed up and improve the multiplayer experience.
GS: Just from the sheer number of races and different hero professions that will be made available in the final game, we can imagine that balancing everything out must be quite a task. What measures is the team taking to make sure that one race/hero combination doesn't have an unfair advantage, or disadvantage? Any plans to solicit player input in the form of an open beta test or a playable demo before the game ships?
SF: As with every Battlecry game, we plan to do two very important things. Firstly, we will spend a lot (and I mean a lot) of time playing the game before release, tweaking the balance right up until the very last day. Secondly, we will be listening to fans after release and creating a number of patches for the game. Currently, we have no plans for a public beta.
PR: As the publisher, QA testing is one of our most important jobs for any title. This is particularly true for Warlords Battlecry III simply because, as you say, it's huge! I mean, there are endless gameplay possibilities, and it takes a lot of testing to see them all. We have an external beta testing program at Enlight and are working with Infinite to incorporate this program for Warlords Battlecry III.
GS: How far along is the game at this point? What aspects of the game is the team working on now?
SF: Most of the artwork is complete, and we're focusing on implementing the major features. Next, we will be putting the finishing touches on the campaign and then finalizing the new hero system. After that, we'll have a few months of polishing everything over and over and over, and we should be set for release.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Warlords Battlecry III?
SF: When we finished Warlords Battlecry II, we actually thought that we might have pushed the game about as far as it could go. However, after hearing so many wonderful suggestions from the players, we realized that Battlecry still has a long road that it can travel, and hopefully Battlecry III is just the next step on that road.
PR: We at Enlight feel that the Warlords Battlecry games are among the most intriguing real-time strategy games ever made, and we feel honored to have the opportunity to work with Steve and his team on Battlecry III. This series has a lot of depth through its variety of features and enhancements, and we are positive it will continue to expand successfully.
GS: Thanks very much to both of you.